Why Cooper is super in finals footy
COOPER Cronk is giving you a look that suggests he has no clue what you're talking about.
Only he does.
We know it, and so does the Roosters No.7.
Which is why we're demanding he fess up.
For right on fulltime four weeks ago, after beating South Sydney 18-14 at ANZ Stadium - a win, coincidentally, that reclaimed both neighbourhood bragging rights and premiership favouritism - we watched Cronk move among exhausted teammates who were doubled over, down on haunches, even splayed out on the turf.
Players that, one after another, he then demanded get to their feet.
And for some, we now remind Cronk, the lifting was done with words - such as his shouting "Stand up, stand up" to forward Isaac Liu.
Yet for others, this little halfback simply grabbed jerseys and did the lifting himself.
"Aah … dunno," Cronk grins. "Did I?"
Um, yeah, you did. We saw it.
"Well, that was a big game," he shrugs, cover blown and cornered now by League Central on the eve of another finals series.
"Leading into that match, Souths had been tremendously consistent. So the result, it was big.
"Which means standing up and being proud of what you've done.
"And I've been there before, I've finished a game and then slumped over while saying, 'Wow that was hard'.
"But it's important you stand on your feet, take a deep breath … be proud of what you've achieved."
If ever you wanted to understand why Cooper Patrick Cronk was born for finals footy, this is it.
Proof that more than being the winningest rugby league player alive - a fella who doesn't just succeed, but understands success - there is also nobody who loves uncomfortable moments more.
Under fatigue, under pressure, even underneath those hurtling NRL forwards who continually thwack him milliseconds after kicking downfield - this Saturday night against Cronulla, think Wade Graham - Cronk is a man who gets better as the games get tougher.
Which is why his Roosters career effectively starts now.
For when the Tricolours shelled out $2 million for his signature last October, they knew that more than a reigning premier - more than a Melbourne, Queensland and Kangaroos legend - they were buying a leader who embraces all those uncomfortable aspects comprising big-game footy.
Physicality, opposition scrutiny, back-page headlines … Cronk inhales it all like oxygen.
A truth proved after that Bunnies blockbuster in August, when the little No.7 was effectively Last Man Standing.
Which again, is why he's here.
Not only in his 14th NRL finals series - no small thing when you've played 15 seasons - but signed on to go and win the Roosters a premiership.
Has to be, right? For getting into September has never been a problem for the boys from Bondi Junction.
But as for winning premierships, plural … yeah, that's been tougher.
Which is why the Roosters not only found seven figures for Cronk, but effectively allowed favoured son Mitchell Pearce to walk.
Undoubtedly, it was an emotional play. Contentious, too, especially eight weeks into this season when, apart from dropping four games, Cronk had himself passed for just three try-assists and two line breaks.
At which point, though, Roosters coach Trent Robinson assumed all blame, insisting his staff would find answers in structure. As they have.
And all the while Cronk now firms for a fifth Grand Final win.
Indeed, while so many superstars exist as if strapped to the Wild Mouse rollercoaster - think Ben Hunt, Jarryd Hayne, Mitchell Moses, even the Burgess twins - Cronk's form never wavers.
"Pressure's a funny thing," he told me earlier this year. "You can't feel pressure. Can't see or touch it, either.
"So is it even real?
"For me, pressure is what you make it. Footballers going into games with pressure on their shoulders, it's really only what they've brought on themselves … what they perceive it to be."
So pressure doesn't exist?
"I know it's out there," he added. "But that doesn't mean I have to feel it."
Nor does he.
Quizzed on now being the undisputed go-to guy, with the undisputed premiership favourites, Cronk says: "Bookies don't determine how you pass or run, just as newspaper articles don't inspire you to tackle harder.
"What determines the result is how well you prepare. Getting yourself ready for every situation.
"Then on game day, you execute."
And, sure, this sounds a little like something from Who Moved My Cheese. Yet know Cronk's success really is largely due to an unshakeable belief - belief in self, belief in hard work, and belief in his ability to get things done.
No, the halfback isn't highly skilful. But highly intelligent? Absolutely.
Which is why in those games where the strongest of mindsets is required - like, oh I dunno, playoffs and the Grand Final - Cronk rises.
And why nobody at Roosters HQ has ever heard him complain of having a bad day.
Instead, they say, the 34-year-old arrives as if every new morning is going to be his best one. Just as he has to.
For skill alone would never have been enough to win Cronk Test caps, Dally Ms, any of it.
Which is why he works, relentlessly. Then succeeds because, over and over, the No.7 tells himself he will.
A mindset that, while rendering Cronk largely misunderstood by so much of League Land - who could forget those Origin quotes about "sinews coming together" and "villages burning"? - undeniably brings success.
That, and premierships.
Indeed, ask the Roosters playmaker about belief and he speaks of his body being like an ATM. The halfback explaining how the more training he puts in - the more hours and effort he gives to his craft - the more he can then withdraw on game day.
Better, he can make said withdrawals in the most uncomfortable of moments. And when others can't.
A truth that so often leaves Cronk as the Last Man Standing.